another mortise gauge

Some folks who chop a lot of mortises don’t even bother with a mortise gauge, instead marking one line with a standard marking gauge. I find them handy, and on most seventeenth-century pieces I have observed show a pair of lines. Sometimes these lines are staggered, the starting points being offset. That can mean that the pins that struck the lines are not on the same beam, rod, staff, whatever you might call that part of the gauge. Or it could be 2 settings of a marking gauge instead of a mortise gauge.

So here’s another in a series of mortise gauges, this one sent up from Alexander’s collection. It is self-explanatory really. Two round rods with screws set in them, captured in a split head, which is then screwed closed around the round rods. Simple as can be.

Here is a detail of the head, showing the staggered positions of the marking pins:

what this gets you is a pair of lines marked on your stock that do not begin & end at the same point, similar effect to one of the mortise gauges posted here recently:


This next view shows the nature of the head or block of this tool – I assume it’s a single piece of wood, bored for the rods, then sawn apart. then screwed back together. Makes sense anyway.

the hatchet

A question I get quite often is about the hatchets I use in preparing stock for joined furniture. There’s a new article in the Oct 2011 Popular Woodworking Magazine, “The Best Oak Money Can’t Buy” in which I outline some of the steps in splitting and riving oak boards. In most cases, after splitting the stock out, there is some hewing done with a hatchet.


hewing stance

I’ll show some shots of the 2 principal hatchets I use, and discuss why they are good ones. Then I’ll tell you I don’t know where to get them.  These are hewing hatchets, joiners’ hatchets, side hatchets…they have lots of names. Broad hatchet might be another one. Main feature is a single bevel, I’m right-handed, the single bevel is on my right when I use the hatchet.


This one is my everyday hewing hatchet, made in Germany before 1933. A couple years back I wrote about it on the bodgers forum  and got a note that outlined part of the firm’s history, citing a move from Cannstatt to Stuttgart in 1933. The hatchet weighs 3 lbs 7 oz. and is about 7 ¾” along its cutting edge. The edge is curved, and the back of the hatchet is slightly dished; to help in stock removal. This dishing of the back is usually only seen when you put a straightedge along the back of the cutting edge. The handle of this hatchet is in line with the eye. Here’s the view showing the shape of the head:

Here’s another from the same makers; this one has an eye that is canted from the plane of the hatchet’s flat face. This gets your handle moved outward, in essence keeping your knuckles from getting skinned. If you have a hatchet whose eye is in line with the head, you can always make a steam-bent handle to achieve the same idea. This one is 3 lbs 4 oz; a tiny bit lighter than the previous one. Cutting edge is 7” long.

this next view shows the angle of the handle to the head.


here’s one more, that I don’t have the specs for, it’s Jennie’s long-time favorite. Same firm, same story – pre-1933 Germany.


So all of these are oldies; but not too long ago there were excellent German hatchets still being sold in the US. Alexander bought this one at Woodcraft back in the late 1970s, early 80s. I had one too, but gave mine to an apprentice c. 1990. I haven’t been able to find out who made this one, it’s marked FWB with a stag on it. It weighs 2 lbs, 8 oz and its cutting edge is about 5 ¼” – it’s an excellent hatchet.

here’s the profile view of this one:

There – now you know what Alexander & I think is a good hatchet. Later, I will show you some that JA has modified from double-bevel axes to effectively come up with a hewing hatchet that works.

Dutch furniture

I’ve mentioned before that I have a great mailbox. Astounding things appear in it from time to time. This one’s a long story that I will skip here, but thanks to Trent and Loek van Aalst I have this great new book on joined oak furniture from the northern Netherlands.

You might remember a post I did a while back about a cupboard that was on display at the MFA Boston – just an amazing object.

Then later, I saw the same cupboard in the exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. Turns out it’s one of several period pieces owned by the couple whose collection was featured in that exhibit; and it was van Aalst (one of the co-authors of this book) who guided them in the furniture end of things…

The book is all in Dutch, but it isn’t that hard to figure out the basics. some of the details will take some work…but I have a co-worker who is Dutch. That helps.

One of the joined stools in the text was described as having turned legs and large houses. We finally sussed out that it means the mortises are long, to accomodate a deep (or high) apron. So the “houses” were mortises. In 17th-century English, the tenon is sometimes rendered “tennant” – so not all that weird.  Here’s some other  stools from the book –

If you like oak furniture, joined & carved & decorated all over, I’d say get the book. We are finding all manner of parallels between the stuff in this book and things we have seen in New England furniture for years & years.

Thanks, Trent. thanks, Loek van Aalst.


This is what can happen when your joints aren’t marked somehow. This stool I made back in the 1990s, but it could have happened yesterday. It still holds me up off the floor, but…

These days I mostly use a chisel, gouge or sometimes an awl to identify which tenon goes in which mortise.

It’s good practice to help keep things straight. Here’s a chest of drawers in an article I did years ago with Trent & Alan Miller, showing the chisel-cut ID marks to identify which drawer is which. (this one I got off Chipstone’s website, photo by Gavin Ashworth)


This stuff goes on & on, you see it in house frames too. I keep planning on getting out a series of photos showing this sort of thing. There’s lots of arrangements, and sometimes you can’t make heads nor tails out of them. But the principal is the same – keep track of your joints, people.


trestle table done

Tough thing for me to photograph, I really am not set up for shooting large stuff…

For a plain Jane table, I semi-like this one. here’s a few views of it. Oak & pine, how can you go wrong?

Here’s the chamfer on the upright and the long rail:

the pine top, made of two boards that each taper some in width. Ship-lapped, or rabbeted to each other. Then nailed down to the frame.

and the end pieces, often called “breadboard” ends, but I don’t know what that really means. I don’t call them anything, some call them “clamps”


that’s it for now.

17th-century bench hook…again

When I started this blog a few years back, one of the earliest posts was about the planing stop I use. In the 17th century, this tool was called a “bench hook”  – a term now confused with the wooden jig for sawing and other tasks.

Here is a bench hook I use most of the time, made for me by Mark Atchison. It fits in a wooden block, about 2” square and maybe 6” long. It is based on some archaeological examples, but adapted a bit. As I recall, the one found at Jamestown was quite long…

Alexander has a blacksmith-made version, but also concocted one from a scrap of a sawblade, fitted to a wooden block.

The toothed section is not screwed to the top of the block, but fits with a bolt and nut. Note the hole through the block, there is a captured nut inside there, and the bolt from above comes down to engage that nut. Screwing down through the end grain is not the strongest connection, so Alexander dreamt up this version instead.

The bench hook’s highest point is the teeth, the whole end of the block slopes down from there. To go even further, Alexander cuts a notch in the bench top, just in front of the bench hook’s spot, that was she can knock the hook all the way down, keeping it out of the way of edge tools.

JA ersatz bench hook


So there’s a handy, simple alternative to a custom-made version. The blocks in both these are about 2″ square. When mine wiggles in the mortise in the bench, I just shove a shaving in there with it. That keeps it from moving about.

here’s the earlier posts

2 recent projects

I didn’t have a chance for photos yesterday at the shop. So little to add today. But I finished one of two wainscot chairs I have underway. This one is an amalgamation – the client had a poor photograph, so I had to cobble together several patterns, etc to come up with a chair. I prefer to copy an  existing artifact, but there you go.


I plan on getting some proper photographs of this and the next one soon.

Here’s the rear view of the chair


Also finished a trestle table recently, oak & pine. So I’ll really have to spread out to get some pictures.

mortise depth, cross section

Typically in chopping the mortises I use in joined furniture, I get the bulk of the mortise down to the depth I want (1 1/2″) and then find that there’s a bunch of un-chopped junk near the ends. Here you can see what I mean in the left-hand end in this picture – I was going for the 1 1/2″ depth, and at the point where the ruler is I am not yet there.

So the thing to do is get in there & cut that stuff up, then lift the waste out on the back of the chisel. I drove the chisel straight in, and then moved it forward a bit, and repeated. this breaks up the stuff at the bottom of the mortise.

After chopping into that stuff, then I insert the chisel bevel down, from the other end. Now I can get under that stuff, and bring it up & out.

This was the 2nd of these “mortises under glass” and it really is helpful to see the action. A little tricky to chop a mortise with a piece of plate glass in the way…but the price you pay for learning.

two nice mortise gauges

Tonight I have two mortise gauges to look at. I bought one at Ed Lebetkin’s tool store above Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School. Chris Schwarz wrote about Ed’s stuff here:


mortise gauge

I managed to get out of there with only this gauge. Just a few weeks ago, Jennie Alexander & I were talking about this model of gauge, and how it strikes a pair of lines that are staggered where they begin & end. It makes sense, and if we were to find a pair of lines like that on old furniture, we could say the joiner likely used a gauge like this one. (or a marking gauge struck twice) Well, in principal anyway.


worn pins

The wear on this one, either on the beams that the pins are in, or on the pins themselves result in one pin striking a stronger line than its neighbor. Thus you need to go over the lines a bit, and that gets you a varied pattern of struck lines. they aren’t always consistent.  So much for theory.  But, it’s a nice mortise gauge. The beams have a small tongue & groove to keep them together, and the whole thing tightens with a wedge thru the head. The plan is to one day make one based on this…but that was the plan when I bought this next mortise gauge umpteen years ago.


another mortise gauge

This little one is more complicated than the previous one. It has two beams that nest together, and are captured in the head by a wedge. So far, so good. But one of the pins is installed in a block glued onto one beam. Then this block fits in a square notch cut in the other beam. Nice.


As an added registration, there’s a groove in one beam, and a small iron pin in the other to keep them keyed to each other.


registration pin

Someone marked positions on the edges of the beams to line up the pins for specific mortises. Here’s the main setting – 3/8″


Shift things this way & you have  5/16”


and this way gets you  7/16”


all with two marks scribed across the beams. nice one.

But remember, these are more complicated than they need to be – here’s Alexander’s fixed gauge. one setting, over & over.



mortising under glass, thanks Roy & Frank

when you spend 8 days with Roy Underhill, stuff happens. One of my favorite moments from the joined stool class we had at the Woodwright’s School was when Roy reprised his demo of mortising under glass. Roy projected this with Frank Klauz at one of the Woodworking in America gigs a while back. I didn’t see it then, but asked Roy if he would mind if I boosted the idea for here. Mine’s photos, not video (I have enough to do without making my own videos) – so thanks Roy & Frank. what a great teaching tool.

a piece of plate glass clamped to the face of an oak board, then chop a mortise into the edge. Shoot thru the glass. This stock was air-dried riven oak. I need to try it on some green wood. but I grabbed what was nearby…

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